Posted by: atowhee | September 29, 2016


I may have seen my last Turkey Vultures of the year for the northern Willamette Valley.  I saw a handful at Hagg Lake and then one over McMinnville.  Nights are getting colder and soon those carcasses will freeze overnight, not the sort of diet to please the vulturian palate.

I found no shorebirds at Hagg Lake but plenty of ducks tucked back in the quiet inlets, away from fishermen and boats.  It was especially nice to see a small flock of Hooded Mergansers; the males had their white cheek windows only partially ajar.home-a1-1280x960 home-a2-1280x960Note the up-turning tails not quite as vertical as would be required to qualify as a Ruddy Duck. home-a3-1280x960 home-a4-1280x960Note male in foreground with his flaming eyeball.

One female Common Merganser was doing her plumage when I got there.come-hagg2-1280x960 come-hagg1-1280x960Goose Island:cago-is1-1280x960 cago-is2-1280x960Sapsucker beak-work: sap-tree-a-1280x960Scoggins Creek, major water source for the reservoir which is well below capacity right now. scogg-crk-1280x960Triffids?  Metal-legged crabs that feed on pesticides and radiation?  Alien invaders?  Protectors of spawning fish when there’s water?  Impediment to anchoring?  Clearly they are under water when the lake is full…triffids-1280x960Garden denizen, a shaded and shady character indeed. sql-2 sql-3

Henry Hagg Lake Park (Scoggins Valley Park), Washington, Oregon, US
Sep 29, 2016 12:05 PM – 1:05 PM.  12 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  50
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  20; Ring-necked Duck   1
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  12, the
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  5
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  3
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  3
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  5
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  16
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  2

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Sep 29, 2016 7:45 AM.  13 species

Four sparrow family species for the first time this season.  GC and Song are not in my garden during the breeding season.  Now if one of those traveling Whigte-crowns will just show up and bring a Fox Sparrow with him, we could get to a half dozen in a day with no vagrancy required.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  X
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  1
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  1
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  X
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  20

Posted by: atowhee | September 27, 2016


Today in McMinnville and yesterday on upper Baker Creek Road Robins were abroad in big numbers, autumn flocks.  These seem to be locals, not the darker individuals that migrate down from the rain forests further north.

Red-tails were focused on a mown field, four standing on the ground.

garterOKour only local snake with longitudinal stripes, a garter…but I’ve seen one so gray before. He was in a logging road at the upper end of Baker Creek yesterday. He didn’t even use his tongue to sense my presences, just froze until the dog and I left.  About 20 inches long, less than an inch in diameter at his chubbiest, much slimmer than those Miss Universe types that Trump criticizes for being fat.  This was one slender fellow, as Ms Dickinson would have noted. snak-hed-1280x960

Baker Creek Road, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Sep 26, 2016 4:30 PM – 5:20 PM.  10 species

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  5     all in single field at intersection of Baker Creek Road and Orchard View Road
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  1
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)  3
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  6
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  X
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  20
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  2


Our first flock of waxwings (that I’ve noticed) for the season. I’ve been seeing them in tight formation around town for a couple weeks.btits-1280x960Cute, huh? btits2-1280x960 btits3-1280x960  gcsp-1280x960Golden-crown above, House Finch below…through the window at dawn’s early light. hofi-at-dawn-1280x960

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Sep 27, 2016 7:30 AM. 10 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  1
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  20
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  15
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  1
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  3
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  30

Posted by: atowhee | September 27, 2016


Here are two videos of Great Gray Owls taken in Oregon.

This one is from the Mountain Bird Festival in the Ashland area.

This is one is of fledglings, somewhere undisclosed in Oregon.

Posted by: atowhee | September 26, 2016


Sunrise at the Field Station, just as the coyotes begin to celebrate the dawning sun.p2780482-1280x960Right now White-crowned Sparrows from further north are sweeping southward through Oregon.  Some will stay, many will move on.  In Harney County there must be millions of these small sparrows passing each fall.  Every where we went in the valley last week there were clouds of small birds in the bush, most often they turned out to be White-crowns.  Here an adult White-crown and his rabbitbrush meal. The whole week we heard not a single sparrow song. Photos from right outside our dorm at Malheur Field Station.wcsp-eatseed-1280x960 wcsp-eatseed2-1280x960 wcsp-from-abuv   wcsp-leans-1280x960 wcsp-reachs wcsp-seed-1280x960 In photo below you can see the slender filaments from seeds protruding from the beak which is itself half an inch long.wcsp-seeds wcspeatseed-1280x960The rabbitbrush is known to botanists by the mouthful Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus. It is beloved of rabbits as well as sparrows as neither can healthfully eat the ubiquitous sagebrush in the steppe habitat of Malheur’s dry parts. Rabbitbrush is in full seed mode right now, in time for the passage of sparrows.  Each tiny seed is a dot on a filament, as light as air, prone to move about with any breeze or sneeze.

You have to rest to digest.wcsp-high-964x1280-964x1280Great Horned Owl in Russian olive at Field Station.owlin-olive-1143x1280-2Two owls along Central Patrol Road–Great Horned, then Long-eared.  Both were between Krumbo Road and Benson Not-a-Pond.owl-in-wilo-1008x1280leo3-1280x960-2Buena Vista in this very dry Sapsucker in woods east of Benson Not-a-Pond.rns-in-tree-906x1160-2rns-profil-747x1118-747x1118View toward Steens Mountain from Malheur Basin.steens-afar-1280x960thrashr-sage-1280x1020-1280x1020Sage Thrashers,thrashr-tree-side-1280x960-1280x960thrshr-tree-1280x960-2TV in

Posted by: atowhee | September 26, 2016


Anybody who birds Malheur NWR must confront Central Patrol Road with the reward of beautiful Page Springs at the south end.  Here is a gallery of shots from along the way by Kirk Gooding, all taken last week.fullsizerenderDawn at the Malheur Field Station.  Owls on view at the old gym.    fullsizerender_1 fullsizerender_2 fullsizerender_3 fullsizerender_4 Sage Thrasher, one of many.fullsizerender_5 fullsizerender_6 Badger on cliff face south of Buena Vista overlook, overlooking us in return.badgerbadger2fullsizerender_7 No water in Buena Vista Ponds.fullsizerender_8 Distant egret and pair of cranes at one of the few Buena Vista wet spots.fullsizerender_9 fullsizerender_10 fullsizerender_12 fullsizerender_13 Say’s Phoebe next to this old hay barn below Buena Vista overlook.saphfullsizerender_16 fullsizerender_17 fullsizerender_18 Note owl in upper cavity; we had inadvertently flushed him from his daytime napping spot in a juniper.fullsizerender_19 Another Great Horned Owl, this one in willows along Central Partrol Road.fullsizerender_20 No water at Benson, but goof birds in those distant trees.fullsizerender_21Coop, was chased by a Sharpie who in turn chased and missed a series of Flickers.  coopThe attacking Sharpie.s-s The TV Tower, “TV” as in Turkey Vultures, P


It is rare to find a magpie who’ll pose for pictures.  This one may be fed occasionally by friendly denizens of the Page Springs Campground.  In good light he delighted.  He paraded across his picnic table before getting bored with our stares and returned to the berry-laden junipers nearby.

fullsizerender_25 fullsizerender_26 fullsizerender_27 fullsizerender_28 fullsizerender_29 fullsizerender_30 fullsizerender_31 fullsizerender_32 fullsizerender_33 fullsizerender_34 fullsizerender_35 fullsizerender_36 fullsizerender_37

Posted by: atowhee | September 26, 2016


These photos were all taken by Kirk Gooding on our Klamath Bird Observatory field trip, from Ashland to Malheur and back. The Acorn Woodpecker was in Jackson County, all the rest were east of the Cascades.fullsizerender fullsizerender_1White Pelican takes to the air at Rocky Point, Klamath Lake. fullsizerender_3 fullsizerender_7 fullsizerender_8Creeper above, Hairy Woodpecker below.  Both at Collier State Park. fullsizerender_9Crossbills: fullsizerender_12 fullsizerender_23Pair of Great Horned Owls at dawn, Malheur Field Station: fullsizerender_25View east across Malheur Basin to Steens Mountain:fullsizerenderMalheurian landscape: fullsizerender_3 fullsizerender_4STEENS MOUNTAIN VIEWSCAPES:fullsizerender_4 fullsizerender_5 fullsizerender_6 fullsizerender_7 fullsizerender_8 fullsizerender_9 fullsizerender_10 fullsizerender_11 fullsizerender_16 fullsizerender_17 fullsizerender_19 fullsizerender_21 fullsizerender_22 fullsizerender_23fullsizerender_2 fullsizerender_3Sage Thrasher above. They were eating Russian olive fruit and getting restless before migration. fullsizerender_5Long-eared Owl along Central Patrol Road north of Benson Pond. fullsizerender_7 fullsizerender_8fullsizerender_13fullsizerender_14 fullsizerender_10 fullsizerender_11 fullsizerender_12

Posted by: atowhee | September 25, 2016


deer-dine-1280x960Deer pretending invisibility at Page Springs. deer-dine2-1280x960 deer-tongue-1280x960 deermunch-1280x960Note that pink, prehensile tongue. deermunch2-1280x960Nuttall’s cutest namesake, of cottontail persuasion. nutt-rabstreens-sign-1280x960Yellow pine chipmunk that watched us as we watched wild horses on south end of Steens Loop.p2780388-1280x960 w-horses-1280x960 w-horse2-1280x960w-horse-1280x960 w-horse-valley-1280x960Least Chipmunk at Malheur Field Station, smallest chipmunk in North America.p2780538Here’s the same yellow pine chipper, photos by Kirk Gooding.fullsizerender_1 fullsizerender_2 fullsizerender_3Here we have Kirk on coyote and pronghorn:fullsizerender_22We ust have seen over 50 individual coyotes…maybe they had a good summer, maybe the drought has drawn them into irrigated fields close to the road. It was exciting to see so many predators unshot and unkilled. fullsizerender_24

Posted by: atowhee | September 25, 2016


There are few birds on this earth that can compare with Sandhill Cranes in their many extraordinary ways of being.  Perhaps the oldest bird species still alive, tens of millions of years for cranes while our American warblers seem kindergarteners in their nouveau evolution.  Long, curled throat that allows trumpeting superior to any manmade brass instrument or electronic facsimile. Both crane species in North America are our tallest birds.  Unlike towering emu or ostrich, they fly.  Some From Siberia to the southern U.S.  Thousands of miles annually, at heights of thousands of feet. To see an adult pair in evening light, iron stains still on their gray plumage, the sunset glow on their red skull cap, elegant legs and curved neck stretched, then bent…in turn to be seen through their eyes of the same kind that once watched mastodon and saber tooth, this is a moment in birding to be savored, and shared.  Herewith a pair of cranes along Diamond Road, Harney County:crane-belly-preencrane-feed-1280x960crane-feml-alertcrane-itch-1280x960crane-preen1-1280x960cranes-eyeA small feather hangs rakishly from the male’s beak tip, while he gives us a cutting stare. This mated pair will migrate and winter together, returning to the Malheur area late next winter. Most summers Malheur has Oregon’s largest concentration of breeding Sandhill Cranes.  I am told they had a good breeding season there this year. Most of the world’s Sandhill Cranes breed far to the north in Canada, Alaska and Siberia.  Some states cling to archaic values and have crane hunting seasons…across the Great Plains (except Nebraska).  No crane hunting on the Pacific Coast.

Below, three images of the same couple by Kirk Gooding:fullsizerender_5fullsizerender_6fullsizerender_7To clarify a point of discussion on our trip: the adult crane’s red crown is bare flesh, not feathers.


I am not alone in the crane universe.  There are many of us enthusiastic cranists.  I have worn out the brilliant lines on these birds by Aldo Leopold.  Herewith a few other commentaries:

“Cranes are the stuff of magic, whose voices penetrate the atmosphere of the world’s wilderness areas, from arctic tundra to the South African veld, and whose footprints have been left on the wetlands of the world for the past 60 million years or more.”                           –Paul Johnsgard

“Preening, feather ruffling, and similar body care activities …occur in social or ‘display’ context in most and probably all cranes.”                                                    –Paul Johnsgard

“Cranes are among the oldest living bird groups, and the sandhill crane in particular is the oldest known currently existing species, based on fossil remains attributed to this species that are about nine million years old.  Cranes were already on the scene when the earliest primates were small, hesitant, and shrewlike…”                                           –Paul Johnsgard

“Like most American Indian tribes–most traditional peoples, for that matter–the Anishinabe (or Chippewa or Ojibway) revere the crane, which is so admired for its oratorical abilities that it is called ‘Echo Maker’ or ‘Speaker for the Clans’.”     –Peter Matthiessen

On a pet Sandhill Crane “Nothing pleased Sandy more than an outing with her human friends.  Brimming with excitement, garrulous, ready to bounce and dance, she would flap her wings excitedly, begging me to fly with her… There is in a sandhill crane no movemnet, no action not of immaculate grace, unless it is at that moment when they first touch land from flight… Since man first tried to reproduce the beauty of his world upon a cavern wall, the cranes have fascinated him…”                –Dayton O. Hyde

Platte River, Nebraska, March 20 afternoon “Buttermilk sky. Deep blue space winged with downy clouds shading into an ashy gray.  The Sandhill Cranes come from all directions.  There is nowhere to look but up in the sky, and nowhere to look that there are not Cranes, undulating wave upon wave of Cranes. Their calls precede them, announcing their skyborne waves flowing in immense Vs of orderly ranks, or, suddenly as if there were no North,  East, South or West for them, they dissolve into a scattered alphabet, soaring n thermals which momentarily direct their coarse.  There is nothing like it, no word to equate their sound. Nothing I have ever heard in all my life vibrates inside the ear like the calls of thousands of Cranes.”         –Alice Lindsay Price

“A flock of cranes spirals out of the sky to drop into an old milo field. The birds float groundward, looking like dandelion seeds–a broad mass of wings above, the stilt-like legs dangling below. Each bird judiciously spills wind from its cupped wings in order to descent under control.  Just before landing, a crane adopts a “flaps down” wing posture, then backstrokes while running a  step or two.”                               –Steve Grooms

“If you’ve never heard sandhills, imagine a Scotsman clearing his throat in a long, burred garoo! into a rain barrel.  Depending on your fancy this burbling hoot can sound hopeful, mournful, weird, archaic, or simply beautiful.”                          –Steve Grooms

Indulge me, and Aldo, once more:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.  The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.”             –Aldo Leopold

“When we hear his call, we hear no mere bird, we hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution.”      –Aldo Leopold

Posted by: atowhee | September 25, 2016


Forget the quetzal, take a gander at our resplendent magpie in eastern Oregon.bbm-flis1-1280x960In the above shot he is carrying a juniper berry in his beak. bbm-atop-1280x960bbm-atop-1280x960Yes, thgere is blue and purple on his back and wings. bbm-tabled-1280x960All these shots taken at Page Springs Campground, Harney County.

Posted by: atowhee | September 25, 2016


The winter bird diversity is starting to take over in Yamhill County.  I did see a couple dozen Barn Swallows today but they’ll soon vanish from view. Aother bird of passage: a coyple of Yellow-rumps. Best of all I saw my first fall Merlin and a fresh shipment of eclipse plumage Shovelers.
Merlins just appeal to my sense of efficiency and purpose. I find falconry (including H is for Hawk) to be morally inexcusable but I did spend some time years ago talking to a lifelong falconer in England.  He told me the ultimate bird in that blood “sport” is the Merlin.  It’s kill rate is much higher than big birds that hover or soar. The deliberate Merlin sits…watches…calculates…then often strikes and kills.  But the Merlin also must hunt and kill daily…in all weather…in all seasons.  Not a bird for the armchair falconer. I also imagine Merlins have an acceleration rare that would be the envy of any drag strip.  Zero to sixty in a couple seconds.  Compact, strong, straight-flying, accurate.  No need to hide or be sneaky like a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s, no aerial displays like Osprey or buteo or eagle. Sit, fly, eat.  That could be any Merlin’s memoir.
In my garden I am starting to see my winter birds: both Song and White-crowned Sparrows have been through this week.  Neither is a summer bird in my neighborhood.  Cedar Waxwings have also been in the vicinity in their compact flocks, flying around like inland Sanderlings.
American Goldfinches continue to dominate in terms of number, one day last week there were at least three dozen on our feeders and in our trees.
Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Sep 25, 2016 10:50 AM – 11:50 AM.  11 speciesMallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  3
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)  29
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  1
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  3
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
Merlin (Falco columbarius)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  5
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  27
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  2
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1

The haws are now ripe at Yamhill Sewer Ponds, ready for the thrushes, waxwings, jays and other berry hungry birds.haws-ripe-1280x960

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